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Should We Aim for Consensus?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 January 2012


There can be good reasons to doubt the authority of a group of scientists. But those reasons do not include lack of unanimity among them. Indeed, holding science to a unanimity or near-unanimity standard has a pernicious effect on scientific deliberation, and on the transparency that is so crucial to the authority of science in a democracy. What authorizes a conclusion is the quality of the deliberation that produced it, which is enhanced by the presence of a non-dismissible minority. Scientists can speak as one in more ways than one. We recommend a different sort of consensus that is partly substantive and partly procedural. It is a version of what Margaret Gilbert calls “joint acceptance”–we call it “deliberative acceptance.” It capitalizes on there being a persistent minority, and thereby encourages accurate reporting of the state of agreement and disagreement among deliberators.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2010

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